U-Turn Audio – Orbit Plus Turntable – the best budget turntable

I have a small record collection, around 200, but I haven’t listened to them in years, ever since I sold my beat up old Pioneer turntable. Spotify and CD rips have been my main source of music but the thought of all those cool old records has haunted me. I finally decided to do something about it and set about researching turntables.  There are a lot of options out there in the $200-$500 range, which I gather is where you need to be to get really good sound. After a lot of research I settled on the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus and I have to say, I’m blown away by the quality and performance.

Looks and Build Quality:
I’ll be honest, looks were nearly as important to me as sound. This is going to be out in the open so I wanted something that looks cool. The Orbit Plus looks terrific, with a clear acrylic platter and exposed belt drive.  I opted for black but it’s available in five chassis colors, including a swanky 70’s green.  Build quality is rock solid, important for the best sound quality. Absolutely no complaints in look or build quality.

As cool as it looks, if the sound is bad it won’t matter. I purchased the model with a built in pre-amp, so I was able to plug it directly into the Aux inputs on my Marantz home theater receiver. I’m running a couple of Micca bookshelf speakers and a small subwoofer, which is sufficient for my small room. Set up was easy, to be honest I didn’t do any calibrating or anything, I just plugged it in and dropped the needle on (what else?) Dark Side of the Moon. I’ve heard this record dozens of times on Spotify, and it sounds great but hearing it on a pristine record played on a high quality turntable was a transcendent experience. Could I tell the difference in a blind test? Maybe not on every record but on this one I honestly think I could. Is it a “warmer” sound? Deeper? I don’t know how to describe it other than to say fuller or thicker, but to my ears it does sound better. I did a few basic tests, like jumping up and down on my floor and pointing a fan at the turntable but there was no skipping or audible distortion. My ears aren’t as finely tuned as some but to me, this thing is perfect.

Look, at $379 this isn’t a cheap purchase. You can buy some shitty Crosley for $99 but you’re going to damage your records. The Orbit Plus has a nice, high quality Ortofon OM5E cartridge, which is as good as it gets in this price point. The turntable itself is so well built that you can comfortably go with a high end cartridge if you feel the need to get into serious audiophile territory. This really is something you’ll buy for life, its that well built. It’s made in America and U-Turn Audio has excellent support, with a strong social media presence and a passionate user base. This is my favorite audio purchase, maybe ever. If you’re looking for a turntable I can’t recommend this thing highly enough.

Link: U-Turn Audio – Orbit Plus Turntable via Amazon

DragonFly Black Portable DAC – the perfect Christmas gift for budget audiophiles

I listen to a lot of cheap earbuds and headphones of varying quality but the one thing they all have in common is my audio source. Most of the time I’m listening to Spotify via my laptop or phone, admittedly not the high end lossless source most audiophiles would prefer. But realistically that’s how most people are getting their music today, or from iTunes, Tidal, YouTube, etc. We’re all listening to the headphone jack on our devices so we’re at the mercy of the built-in DAC, which converts the digital file to an analog sound wave our headphones can play. The problem here is the built-in DAC is built for mass market consumption, cost is a major factor and quality just has to be good enough. Improving this DAC can have  huge impact on your listening experience. There are any number of desktop DACs or “portable” DACs the size of a cigarette pack or larger, usually requiring their own power source or drawing too much power via USB to use on a cell phone. The Audioquest DragonFly looks to be the perfect solution for the mobile user, as well as for home use.

The DragonFly looks like a high quality thumb drive and connects to your USB port. All digital to analog processing is offloaded to the DragonFly and it’s high quality DAC chip. You can read all about the specs at the Audioquest site so I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say it’s a much higher level of audio quality than any laptop or mobile phone. It couldn’t be easier to use, just plug into your USB port, plug your headphones in the other end and you’re all set. It just works.

But how is the sound? Fantastic. I was skeptical about dropping $99 on something that might not make much of a difference but I immediately noticed the improvement. Music just sounds more dynamic, fuller, more defined. There’s a vibrancy to the sound that I didn’t even know was missing. I went from being a skeptic to being convinced that these are a must have, especially if you plan on buying a nicer pair of headphones than the type we usually review here. You need a good sound source to get the most out of your headphones, and the power to drive them. The DragonFly series of DACs provide that source. I only tried the Black but there’s also a DragonFly Red for $199 that provides even more power for higher end headphones. I don’t think you can go wrong with either.

The DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red are available and in stock at Amazon. They’d make a great gift for anyone who’s into music.